Aerial view of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil. Photo: luoman / Conservation International

Arlington, Virginia, 12 February 2018 (Conservation International) – A study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that protected areas that are deforested are more likely to subsequently lose legal protections.

The study examined 62 protected areas in Rondônia, Brazil, home to immense stretches of the Amazon, and found that when protected lands are deforested, the government often later reduced or wholly eliminated an area's legal protections.

"It's a vicious cycle," says Mike Mascia, Senior Director, Social Sciences at Conservation International and co-author of the study. "If a protected area has suffered from deforestation, then it becomes vulnerable to loss of legal protections. And if a government scales back some or all legal protections, then the remaining forest may be even more vulnerable to the forces that led to deforestation in the first place."

Scientists refer to these legal changes as PADDD, which stands for protected area downgrading, downsizing or degazettement, says Mascia.  "A very fresh and well-known example is what happening to Bear's Ears National Monument, in Utah. President Trump reduced the size of Bear's Ears - that's PADDD. Now that area is open for mining."

"The government's support for economic development in Rondônia – and the subsequent deforestation in Rondonian protected areas -  is emblematic of the challenges facing protected areas around the world," said Rodrigo Medeiros, VP of Conservation International Brazil. "There's a misconception that these areas aren't bringing any benefits to society. Protected areas provide clean air, carbon storage, freshwater -- the benefits are innumerable. It's critical that governments factor in the ecological importance of protected areas and enforce protections for conservation outcomes."

One of the highlights of the study is that effective governance of protected areas -- making sure they don't get deforested in the first place -- may create a virtuous cycle, by helping to ensure legal protections endure over the long term and, thus, sustain the very forests that merit protection.


Jenny Parker McCloskey, VP Media, 2011 Crystal Drive Suite 500, Arlington, Virginia 22202,, (917) 763-3263

Study Says Deforested Areas in the Amazon Vulnerable to Loss of Legal Protections

ABSTRACT: Protected areas (PAs) remain the dominant policy to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services but have been shown to have limited impact when development interests force them to locations with lower deforestation pressure. Far less known is that such interests also cause widespread tempering, reduction, or removal of protection [i.e., PA downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD)]. We inform responses to PADDD by proposing and testing a bargaining explanation for PADDD risks and deforestation impacts. We examine recent degazettements for hydropower development and rural settlements in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon. Results support two hypotheses: (i) ineffective PAs (i.e., those where internal deforestation was similar to nearby rates) were more likely to be degazetted and (ii) degazettement of ineffective PAs caused limited, if any, additional deforestation. We also report on cases in which ineffective portions were upgraded. Overall our results suggest that enhancing PAs’ ecological impacts enhances their legal durability.

SIGNIFICANCE: Emerging evidence shows that the boundaries of protected areas (PAs) and their level of protection regularly change, yet little is known regarding the underlying causes of these legal changes and their impacts on ecosystems. For PA degazettements (i.e., protection removals) in the state of Rondônia in the Brazilian Amazon we show that the PAs less effective in stemming deforestation are more likely to be degazetted. For those already deforested PAs degazettement had limited, if any, additional impact on deforestation. Consistent with the scientific literature recognizing that governance shapes conservation outcomes, governance that improves PA outcomes also improves their legal durability. Our evidence on such relationships suggests directions for research and the need for policymakers to reexamine conventional wisdom regarding PAs.

Land-use and land-cover change shape the sustainability and impacts of protected areas



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